Like most of us, I’ve had plenty of time to say good-bye to the passing year – to decide what I’ll miss most about it and to brace myself for the coming new year.
Some of my old and treasured ways will make the journey with me; while others are destined to be left behind. I can’t stop change, I tell myself again and again, as if repetition will somehow lessen the shock.
I suppose I feel this way because I was born into a generation connected to the past. My grandparents, like many of America’s ancestors, came to this country during the great immigration. Like millions of Italian immigrants, they came in search of freedom and a new way of life for their families.
Grandma spared no adjectives each time she described the crowded ships that brought them to America, her stay at Ellis Island with their ailing parents and the long train ride across the country to San Jose, CA.
From Grandma I’ve learned that each passing generation, despite its quickening pace, has a role to play in the great scheme of things, a part in an ongoing history. Like most of my generation, I’ve always felt a connection to our immigrant ancestors and their profound story. A lot has been written and said of it during my time, and I hope to pass some of that on to the next generation for them to complete. Moments come and go in our lives, and memories will fade and reappear, some shinning clearer and brighter than others.
As an Italian American kid who grew up in the 1940s, I sometimes wonder whether I’m getting too old and set in my ways to embrace the oncoming changes that await me. I wonder if I shouldn’t just collect my memories and relish them, instead of forging ahead in search of new ones in this new millennium. But, inevitably, I remember my grandparents’ courage and how they made that brave voyage from Italy to America. And I remember my grandpa as he worked in his prolific vegetable garden observing the young bean sprouts as they popped up through the soil, . the way he pointed out the young seedlings that were destined to grow and the ones that would die.
In Italian, he would say to me: “That which does not change and grow dies.” My grandparents applied that philosophy to their daily lives as well. Change and growth uplifts us and generates life. So it is with this thought, that I anticipate the coming years ahead.
However, there is a part of me that approaches the coming of a modern mechanized world with mixed feelings. My instinct tells me to be cautious in the face of change, especially when it threatens my established tradition, such as old-fashioned communications. Judging by the many answering machines, e-mail addresses and photo cell phones now in service, I fear that we are becoming recorded message centers and that eye to eye contact during communication is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
As an irrepressible traditionalist, I worry that we will become a nation less verbal and more visual. I hope I’m wrong, because I value the orally told story. Technology is great, but it’s not a substitute for the ingredients of human gestures, the sound of laughter, the feeling of a hug, and that quality of love pored into a generational story.
I’ve already said good-bye to some of my favorite sights and sounds from the passing century; the sight of our Santa Clara valley shrouded in a spring halo of white prune blossoms; the gentle sound of icy milk bottles clinking together in the early morning hours. As the milkman made his rounds; the familiar aroma of prunes wafting in from the Valley View Packing Plant during drying season: the mysterious mechanics of a colorful Wurlitzer jukebox as it played my selected records (remember those shiny, black vinyl disks with holes in the center?) the smell of coffee percolating in an aluminum coffee pot on a gas stove; the noisy, but familiar click, click, click of our old TV channel tuner, before remote control came along and viewers had to get off our big fat sofas to change the channel; the actual “brrrinnng” of telephone bells before the touch-tone, portable phone was invented; and the aroma of yard leaves burning in smoldering bunches , before we became concerned with the ozone layer and ecology.
I worry, as Grandma did, that we may be loosing too much of our past too soon. With the advent of microwave cookery, we’ve already lost the enticing kitchen aromas associated with the dinner ritual. Food is prepared silently and devoid of odor inside a microwave oven, so there are no mouthwatering aromas simmering on the stove to wet our appetites and few kitchens are still warmed by the whistle of an old-fashioned teakettle.
But, as I’ve learned from generations past, there’s no holding on to things or to people and sometimes we have to let go in order to go on. Each day replaces the one before it and so on. There will be voids and spaces left behind, but they will be filled with new people, new experiences and new beginnings. Hopefully, the closer I come to understanding all of this, the more I’ll be able to accept the changing, fast paced, world of the 21st century and the approaching new year.